After calling an audible and naming Rudy Carpenter his starting QB, ArizonaState coach Dirk Koetter is taking heat
Although ArizonaState coach Dirk Koetter has a reputation for offensive creativity, his latestinnovation--the quarterback reverse--likely isn't one he's eager to add to hisplaybook. Two days after naming senior Sam Keller the Sun Devils' startingquarterback on Aug. 18, Koetter announced he had made the wrong choice andhanded the job to sophomore Rudy Carpenter. The switch prompted a miffed Kellerto transfer to Nebraska, where he will redshirt this season.
Koetter'sabout-face left his team, a projected Pac-10 contender, in upheaval headinginto its opener on Thursday against Northern Arizona. Instead of havingenviable depth at quarterback, the Sun Devils are now paper-thin; true freshmanDanny Sullivan is Carpenter's backup. And suggestions that Koetter caved in topressure from some of his players in switching from Keller to Carpenter haveraised larger questions about the coach's leadership. "It's like a littlePeyton Place," Keller's father, Mike, told The Arizona Republic before hisson transferred.
Keller, who began2005 as the starter, threw for 2,165 yards with 20 touchdowns and nineinterceptions before a right-thumb injury ended his season in the seventh game,when Arizona State was 3--3. Carpenter took over and led the Sun Devils to a4--1 finish as a starter, including a 45--40 Insight Bowl win over Rutgers. Hehad 2,273 passing yards, 17 touchdowns and just two interceptions, and his 68.4completion percentage made him the nation's passing-efficiency leader.
Koetter announcedat the start of preseason practice that the job was up for grabs. After anintrasquad scrimmage on Aug. 18, he declared the 6'4", 230-pound Keller thestarter based on his seniority. The next afternoon Koetter met with members ofthe Sun Devils' leadership council, an informal group of about 15 players, formore than an hour. That evening the coach informed his two quarterbacks of hischange of heart. Those involved in the meeting have been tight-lipped aboutwhat was discussed, but it's clear that the majority of the players presentfelt Carpenter deserved the job. "The players didn't make the decision; Imade the decision," Koetter says. "They gave good input as to what wasbest for our team. I'd be foolish not to listen to that."
His players'opinions may not have been the only factor that persuaded Koetter to change hismind. Carpenter, who has three years of eligibility left, acknowledged lastweek that he had considered transferring after he was initially named thebackup.
Now Koetter andCarpenter must make sure the season doesn't become a referendum on whether thecoach made the right choice. "With any quarterback competition there isalways a split," Carpenter says. "It's natural for people to choosesides. But guys have been telling me that they're behind me all the way.Everyone realizes that we have to get past personal preferences and do what hasto be done to win games."
The 6'2",207-pound Carpenter can begin mending whatever rift exists by leading the SunDevils to a fast start. With a wealth of returning players on offense, animproved defense and a forgiving early schedule, they could challenge four-timedefending Pac-10 champion USC.
Keller,meanwhile, will spend the season learning Nebraska's West Coast offense.Although current Cornhuskers starter Zac Taylor is a senior, Keller will haveto compete with three returning quarterbacks next season. "I hope Sam goesto Nebraska and tears it up," Koetter says. "I wish him the best. But Ican look myself in the mirror and know I did the right thing for ASUfootball."
Transfer of Power
Sam Keller wasn't the only high-profile player totransfer right before the season began. Former Texas running back RamonceTaylor (right)--who had 15 touchdowns as a sophomore in 2005--left Austin lastspring and enrolled at Texas College, an NAIA school. Taylor, 20, had beensuspended from the team for academic reasons and was charged with felonypossession of marijuana in May. (The case is pending.) The Longhorns plan toreplace him with a trio of backs.
Thanks to fellow transfers Allen Webb, a quarterbackfrom Kansas State, and Justin Carter, an All-America tight end from AngeloState, Taylor's new school was already ranked No. 14 before he arrived. IfTaylor receives clearance from the NAIA to play this season, he could help adifferent Texas win a national title.